Friday, 5 November 2010

Hands Off Welsh Language Broadcasting

I am hoping for a good turn-out in Cardiff tomorrow for a rally in support of S4C. Since the Con/Dem coalition government in Westminster announced plans to transfer the purse strings from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to the BBC, concerns have been raised about the future of S4C and indeed, the language itself.

This decision, which is set to come into effect from 2014, was a complete stitch-up between the Con/Dems and BBC bosses in London with no consultation with anyone in Wales. That in itself is reason enough to protest. It makes a complete mockery of the ‘respect’ agenda between Westminster and the Wales that Cameron was keen to trumpet upon entering number 10.

Saturday's rally is not about maintaining the status quo. It has been widely recognised that governance issues at the channel should be looked into and the best way of doing this is in the form of an inquiry. Questions regarding the proposed arrangements remain answered; chief among them is the issue of the channel’s independence. We must avoid an “annual review and an annual bust-up” over the S4C budget as warned by Plaid Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones.

The BBC is set to come under increasing pressure over the coming years to cut back on its budget, as today's strike shows. These are not the best circumstances under which to take control of S4C. Will we see Welsh-language broadcasting become yet another target for the Murdoch media empire and other BBC critics to aim their vitriol at? We have already had a taste of the xenophobic, ignorant, and quite frankly, juvenile attacks that we can expect to be lobbed at S4C with depressing regularity under the proposed arrangements.

Another question. Will S4C be allowed to commission its own programmes under the new arrangements? The removal of autonomy must be opposed vociferously. Plurality in the Welsh media is already a major concern with question marks still lingering over the future of ITV Wales. Any moves that neuter S4C as an independent channel, capable of commissioning its own programmes and forging its own direction, will be a further nail in the coffin of plurality in the Welsh media.

S4C is not only a vital plank for the creative industries of Wales and an important provider of good quality jobs, it is also a cultural institution. With the demand for Welsh medium education increasing in many parts of the country – particularly in areas where the language was almost wiped out a century ago by draconian limits on its use – the children’s programmes on S4C are a vital learning resource. For many children learning through the medium of Welsh in school, S4C provides the only opportunity to hear the language outside of the classroom.

It is for all these reasons that I hope people will turn up and show their support at the rally, arranged by Welsh language pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith, at Cathays Park tomorrow. (Meet at 11am).

Let's send a strong message to Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt and his cronies that they can’t get away with treating the Welsh nation and our language like this.

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